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Contentious Dollar General Hearing

Monday's hearing on the conditional use permit sought to allow construction of a Dollar General store was more emotional and contentious than previous ones, this time with several members of the Development Review Board expressing doubt about the project and more Chester residents testifying against it. Within the next two weeks, the DRB will meet in deliberative session to discuss the proposed store before reconvening on Monday, Feb. 13 for what could be its final meeting on the matter.

It then will have 60 days to make a decision, or the proposal would go through by default. Dollar General is proposing a 9,100-square-foot retail outlet on land adjacentDollar_General to the Zachary's Pizza House property and directly across the street from the Country Girl Diner on Main Street. If it goes through, it will sell everything from food to clothes to hardware and electronics, books and stationary items.

At several times during the Jan. 9 meeting – attended by about 25 Chester residents – a tug of war ensued between DRB Chair Peter Hudkins and Matt Casey, of the Zaremba Group developer: Hudkins asking for more information and Casey hesitating then refusing. That information included a full set of building drawings and “deflection calculations,” which indicate how the steel roof proposed for the building would perform under a heavy load. Casey finally said he wouldn't present a full set of drawings until he gets an Act 250 permit to continue and that the building would be “built to code” so he'd “rather not” present the calculation. Pictured right, artist's rendering of proposed Dollar General before roof height change, supplied by Zaremba Group.


Other board members expressed skepticism about the project. Mark Curran was concerned about money being spent at Dollar General that would go to corporate headquarters rather than circulate within Chester.
Resident Diana Ashworth agreed, saying, “Tourism is the main source of income. People want to see an unaltered, true Vermont.” Dollar General, she added, “would take away from local business ... (that) live, buy and reinvest locally. (Dollar General) will take that local money and take it corporate.”

“In Chester, it's neighbors taking care of neighbors,” she continued, telling of a neighbor's lost dog who was located at Lisai's Grocery, where it had been given a bed and a safe place.

Michele Bargfrede, a jeweler and small business owner, testified that during Hurricane Irene, a number of local businesses – “some here tonight” – stepped in to help, which they do “every day … with school fundraisers, charity events. … These are some of the same people who will be adversely impacted” if Dollar General goes through. Bargfrede added that “Dollar General has not even sent a representative from their company to these meetings. They don't care if this community thrives or fails, but would probably do better if we failed.”

“If anything goes wrong” at a Dollar General, said Scott Morgan, an artist who is also a member of Smart Growth Chester, “you can't contact the owner, which you can do at Lisai's.”


DRB member Scott Wunderle said, “I'm starting to feel it (the Dollar General) will adversely affect” the character of the area. Casey responded, “It's a large mix (of building styles), we fit in with that mix.” But Wunderle added, “I don't think it does fit. It is quite a bit different.”

Shawn Cunningham*, of Smart Growth Chester, responded that most of the buildings that Dollar General is citing as comparable examples were built -- or conditional use permits were sought -- before current zoning laws were adopted and are therefore irrelevant.

“We need to approve our buildings with today's standards, not with yesterday's,” testified resident Carrie King.

Claudio Veliz, an architect and member of Smart Growth Chester, read from town Zoning Regulations: “That all construction of new buildings, as well as any exterior alteration … or renovation of existing buildings adhere harmoniously to the over-all New England architectural appearance which gives the center of Chester its distinct regional character and appeal.” He then emphasized that the center of Chester referred to the area surrounding the Green.

Dollar General representatives began the meeting by offering even more changes – including raising the height of the building by 4.5 feet to slightly steepen the pitch of the roof, adding snow guards along the roof's west side and moving the fire hydrant further south toward Main Street to satisfy a concern of DRB member and Fire Chief Harry Goodell.

At the same time, they also proposed cladding the 9,100-square-foot building in vinyl siding. In earlier versions, Zaremba had proposed to use wood siding to comply with the encouragement to use “native, traditional building materials” in Chester's zoning regulations.

-- By Cynthia Prairie, editor
Editor's note: Shawn Cunningham is married to Cynthia Prairie.










I have commented on this subject before and am still amazed at the objection to a Dollar General in Chester.

I grew up in Chester and have kept a close eye on things there ever since I moved. I still visit 2-3 weeks a year. My parents live there and many friends. This store keeps being compared to Lisai's Market, which is a fabulous store. I worked at that store when I was in high school. It was Ralph's Supermarket, then Monroe Market back then.

Anyway that's my background. Here is a fact: Chester is not helping Chester by shopping locally. Almost everyone in town goes to Claremont to go shopping. Dollar General will bring revenue into the town. That's a fact. If you need a product at a reasonable price you will have a place to get it. These things would be nice to have in Chester. That is also a fact. Will Chester survive without Dollar General? Sure it will. But if the argument is that it will hurt the one and only grocery store in town that's not true. Dollar General does not have a meat counter and that is the No. 1 draw of Lisai's.

OK so my opinion is this: For what it's worth just tell Dollar General what the building needs to look like, take it or leave it. That's simple. Either build it the way the DRB wants it or don't build it.


Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Some quick thoughts about your comment. First, the DRB is a quasi-judicial body that is charged with interpreting the town's zoning regulations. They can't mandate a design and give the applicant a choice.

If you want the economic calculations that we did for our testimony, I'd be happy to send it to you. What we found was that DG will compete with several businesses in town. You can say that's competition, but would you promote a fight between a bantamweight and a heavyweight and call it fair?

DG makes $201 per square foot per year. So they expect sales of more than $1,800,000 per year. We have calculated that DG pays the entire store $100,000 per year including withholding. Additional property taxes of $15,000. Allow $50,000 for other expenses and we see DG bringing $165,000 to the economy. After which, DG will take about $420,000 in gross profit out of Chester.

Lisai's figures DG competes with about 90% of their merchandise. When their income drops off, so will employment. DG will bring 5 to 8 low end jobs. Lisai's employs 9 full time and 20 part time. Meat is the Lisai's draw, but Lonnie can't keep 29 people employed on steaks and grinders. Then the job you had in high school won't be there for our kids.

Just looking at this, DG is a huge loss for Chester.

Now look at the impact it will have on the second home/tourist economy. The DG will add $800,000 in cheap construction to the grand list. If having a cheap looking discount store deters two or three people from building vacation/retirement homes in Chester, the net effect is a loss. If a discount store gateway deters visitors from stopping and staying in Chester, the loss will be enormous.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Wow when I worked at Monroe Market there were 5 full-time and maybe 6 part-time employees back in 1984-1987 time frame. I guess they have really boosted their workers. Anyway your argument is once again bring in more second-home out-of-state people. It's all about appearance in Chester. On a personal note where did you grow up? Are you from Chester? Where does your family live? Are they on fixed incomes? If the DRB is not the decision-maker, then why are they involved in the process? Quasi-judicial sounds like NON judicial as not elected therefore not in the decision making process. Where are the members of the DRB from, ie what is their background?

I doubt too many people would decide not to build a second home in Chester because of a DG store I would say it is more a matter of the high taxes that owning a second house in VT cost. The location of Chester is a great draw for second homes not whether or not there is a DG store in town.

Many of the people I grew up with have left the area due to a lack of quality jobs. When you couple that with the high cost of living it is hard to live in VT no matter what town it is. Sooner or later if all you do is look out for the out of staters that have moved in all you will have is out-of-staters. When I grew up we called them flatlanders.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Hey Chris,

The reason that Lisai's has more employees is simple. More business. This reflects the healthy, diverse economy – led by local businesses – that the town plan envisions.

The DRB is the decision-maker, but it is limited to doing things within the law. If you want to know more about this, the town plan and zoning regulations are on the town website. Check them out.

When it comes to words, it doesn't matter what they sound like, but what they actually mean. “Quasi” in Latin means “resembling” but used with “judicial” means having some of, but not all of the powers of a court. The DRB can approve or deny an application, it can impose conditions, but it can't prescribe a solution. This is the case throughout Vermont. Not just Chester. Once again, it's part of the law. All Vermont statutes are on line.

About second homeowners. Chester has a fair number of second homeowners. They pay the full tax rate. They pay for town services and schools without the break that residents can get if they are elderly, or low income. Whether my 90 year old father is on a fixed income or not seems like a class/status question, so I'll turn it around and ask you if your parents are paying a reduced school tax because of their income. If so, second homeowners are pulling some of their weight.

We've asserted that making the downtown look like a strip mall could deter people from building vacation homes here. You feel that would not be the case, but in talking with owners of vacation homes, we find that they would not have bought or built here if the town had been more typically suburban or urban. It doesn't take many houses that don't get built to offset the $800,000 that Dollar General will spend on its building. And this effect isn't for one or two years, but forever. This could cost the grand list millions. Some of the second homeowners we know would consider selling if the DG goes through. Put enough houses on the market and the prices will drop. Do your parents own a house? How would a property value drop (which means a tax rate increase) go down with them?

Yes, many people have left Vermont for lack of good paying jobs. The Dollar General won't provide any of those, so all you're looking for is cheap stuff for people who aren't making enough money. That's a losing position. Growth is the answer. The Chester economy is like a table built on several legs. Do you kick a leg out and make the table stronger? No.

Tourism is just one of those legs. If you make Chester less attractive to visitors, it's not just a shop or a restaurant or an inn that suffers. If those businesses don't need to (or can't afford to) expand, the carpenters, electricians, plumbers, flooring guys and other businesses lose out.

What we are working for is development that builds on the great town we have while bringing money INTO the community instead of sending it OUT.

I grew up on a 60 acre farm north of Cooperstown, N.Y. My wife and daughter and I moved here to build a house (with my own hands, with timber off our land) and a business. Call me a flatlander, (Ethan Allen was “from away” if you remember your Vermont history) but we are putting our life savings into Chester. You and others who left are not. So who's community is it?

The DRB is made up of both natives and folks who moved here, but what they have in common is a dedication to working to make Chester a great place to live. They put in a lot of work and take a lot of guff, for no money. Move back and put your shoulder to the wheel to make this a better, more prosperous community and I promise that I won't call you a flatlander.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Interestingly, here's what National Geographic's 2009 Traveler survey has to say about our state:

"More than any American state, Vermont has worked to preserve those qualities that make it unique," such as scenic countryside, lively small towns, historic streetscapes, local businesses. A tourist magnet in summer, it nonetheless "never seems overrun by visitors." Scores well for "environmental- and social-sustainability practices."

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Interesting data set I came upon tonight while reading an article concerning Walmart. What does this have to do with Chester? Let me explain: The article stated that Walmart same-store sales dropped over nine straight quarters while between 2007-2010, Dollar General sales grew by 37%.

It would appear that consumers found Walmart pricy and headed to the DG instead. Walmart finds itself in the position of having to bring down costs and expenses, has eliminated some staff (night-time greeters) and is seeking to eliminate day-time greeters.

Management claimed to be reassigning the day-time greeters, but the greeters fear they will be eliminated once it is proved that their new assignment is redundant. One such employee cited in the article has already had his hours cutback 20% as a result of this reassignment and is now struggling to support his two children.

If Dollar General can make Walmart hurt, just imagine what it could do to the local small businesses in Chester.

Saturday, 28 January 2012
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